SEATTLE -- Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto remembers amateur scouting director Tom McNamara bursting into his Spring Training office in Peoria, Ariz., several months ago to tell him about a player he'd just watched at Mercer University, an athletic, 6-foot-4 outfielder named Kyle Lewis.
"Tom said, 'He might be the best player in the country. But he's not going to be there [when the Mariners picked at No. 11 in the first round]," Dipoto said Thursday. "And he dejectedly put his head down and started to walk out. And I said, 'Mac, the Draft is a funny thing.' "
For the Mariners, the funny thing turned out perfectly when Lewis -- a player they ultimately wound up placing third on their Draft board -- fell to them with their first-round pick, which led to a lot of smiles and happy high fives at Mariners headquarters.
The 20-year-old Lewis was Baseball America's College Player of the Year after hitting .395 with 70 runs, 20 homers and 72 RBIs with a .535 on-base percentage in his junior year at Mercer, whose small-school status likely led to his fall out of the top 10 on Thursday.
"He looks like a big leaguer," McNamara said. "He's talented, he's got power, he's got bat speed. He's short to the ball for a guy with long arms. He's got work to do and he knows it. But he's eager. We called him and he said, 'I'm ready to go.' He's got aptitude for baseball, loves the game and has talent. It's a nice combination."
Lewis was a basketball and baseball standout at Shiloh High School in Snellville, Ga., before playing three years of baseball at Mercer, a school of about 4,000 students in Macon, Ga. He was undrafted out of high school and never played summer baseball until prior to his senior year at Shiloh, focusing instead on basketball, and is thus regarded as a late bloomer.
"I think you're scratching the surface of what I have in the tank," Lewis said in a conference call from Atlanta, where he was celebrating becoming the first player ever selected in the first round out of Mercer in either the MLB, NBA or NHL drafts.
MLB.com Draft expert Jim Callis called the selection "a steal for the Mariners" and said he would have taken Lewis with the first overall pick in this year's Draft.
"Even if he doesn't stay in center field, that power profiles so well on the corner," Callis said. "I think the concerns about quality of competition he faced at Mercer are overblown, because what more could this guy do? He stood out in the Cape Cod League -- a showcase for top college prospects -- and he dominated the Southern Conference the last two years. I'm all in."
Lewis said that Cape Cod experience benefitted him as he wound up hitting .300 with seven home runs and 24 RBIs in 39 games.
"That was huge opportunity for me to go out and play against elite competition and have a lot of success," he said. "That gave me a lot of confidence, knowing I could go out and handle the wood bat and hit for a high average and continue to hit for power and just be that complete guy, even at the highest level."
Lewis is the first pick of Dipoto's new tenure as Mariners general manager. Seattle had five picks in the top 12 selections of the previous six Drafts -- Dustin Ackley, Danny Hultzen, Mike Zunino, D.J. Peterson and Alex Jackson -- and none are currently with the big league team.
With pick No. 50 of the second round, the Mariners selected 18-year-old Joe Rizzo, a left-handed hitting third baseman out of Oakton High School in Oak Hill, Va.
The Mariners have only four players on their present 25-man roster who were drafted by the club. Seattle didn't have a first-round pick last year after giving that selection up as compensation for signing free-agent Nelson Cruz.
The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com preview show begins at 9:30 a.m. PT, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 10 a.m. PT.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.